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Courses Camarguaises

Last updated: 09 March, 2024

Courses Camarguaises are bloodless bullfights, unique to Provence, where razeteurs (young men) dressed in white compete to seize a cockade, tied between the horns of a bull. Their only defense is to vault over the boards whenever the bull charges.

Unlike in bullfighting, the bulls are the stars of the show, not the ‘bullfighters’ i.e. razeteurs, even though some razeteurs achieve some local fame and notoriety. Each bull has his own name and identity – some become local ‘heroes’, with long ‘careers’ and even secure an honoury statue. The Camargue bull breed has long been recognised and valued for their speed, spirit, intelligence and fighting prowess (much more than their work ethic), and are specially bred for the occasion.

There are numerous such ‘Courses’ held through the spring and summer months, many accompanying various Provence festivals, but the ‘big one’, the main event, is the Cocarde d’Or that takes place on the first Monday in July. The tournament is staged in the evocative setting of Les Arènes, Arles’ ancient Roman amphitheatre, and includes a colourful parade of traditional costumes. Not only is the best razeteur crowned, but the bravest bull is chosen as well – a great honour for its manade (ranch).

Because this is a bloodless sport, it’s a great way of getting a taste of the tradition of bullfighting, without the gore. It’s also an opportunity to experience a cultural phenomenon in a magnificent Roman setting.

Logistics

Price from: £8
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 8+
Frequency: monthly
When: April-October
Duration: 1+ hours

Getting there & doing it

Regular summer bull ‘races’ take place in Arles, Saint-Remy and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. For a complete calendar of events check the official website which also has a map pinpointing all the venues across Provence.

For major events, be sure to book tickets in advance via the ticketing agency FNAC though for the weekly bullfights in Arles, you can just show up. It can get quite hot sitting in the stands; bring a hat, sunscreen, cold drinks, and (if you can) a cushion – the stone seats are hard. Note – the lower seats can get unnerving if/when as the bulls charge up against the boards.

The Arles Amphitheatre also hosts various festivals complete with the Spanish-style running of the bulls through the streets, which may be less appropriate. Make sure you pick the right one.

When to do it

The Courses accompany various Provence festivals from April-October; the Cocarde d’Or tournament happens on the first Monday in July. In July and August, there are Camargue races every Wednesday and Friday at 5.30pm.